Every World Cup Team's Golden Boy

Mark JonesFeatured ColumnistJanuary 24, 2014

Every World Cup Team's Golden Boy

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    It's now less than five months until the World Cup kicks off in Brazil and if that hasn't got you at least a little bit excited then I'd suggest you're on the wrong website.

    To celebrate the mounting World Cup fever, we've decided to profile the one young player from every single team who will be counted on in the summer.

    To clarify, these golden boys will have to currently be 21 years of age or under (unless no player of that age is suitable) and capable of lighting up the tournament in Brazil.

    We'll start with a man who has the potential to be the face of the footballing summer:

Brazil: Neymar

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Age: 21

    Club: Barcelona

    Caps: 46

    Goals: 27

    Okay, so he'll be 22 by the time Brazil kick off the World Cup with their clash against Croatia on June 12th, but there is little doubt that Neymar could take the summer by storm.

    Currently sidelined by injury, Neymar's first season at Barcelona has gone well, and he is likely to be the shining light and the golden boy that his nation will be pinning all hopes of a home triumph on.

    No pressure there, then.

Croatia: Alen Halilovic

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    Harold Cunningham/Getty Images

    Age: 17

    Club: Dinamo Zagreb

    Caps: 3

    Goals: 0

    Unsurprisingly compared with Luka Modric due to his stature, his playing style and his nationality, Dinamo Zagreb's Halilovic has been a name linked with plenty of Europe's big hitters in recent years.

    He broke into the Dinamo team aged 16 and then became the youngest ever goalscorer in the Croatian League the following week, whilst he's also picked up Champions League experience along the way.

    He turns 18 on the day of Croatia's second group match against Cameroon in Manaus and whilst his youth may count against him he'll be determined to make an impact in Brazil.

Mexico: Alonso Escoboza

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    Ross Setford/Associated Press

    Age: 21

    Club: Santos Laguna

    Caps: 3

    Goals: 1

    Left-winger Escoboza made an explosive impact into senior international football when he scored against Finland after coming on as a substitute for his debut in late October.

    Four months earlier he was part of the Mexican squad at the Under-20 World Cup in Turkey, where he also found the net in a 4-1 group win over Mali.

    Mexican squads at World Cups have traditionally been on the experienced side, but Escoboza could add a dash of flair and pace to brighten up their summer chances.

Cameroon: Fabrice Olinga

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    David Rogers/Getty Images

    Age: 17

    Club: Zulte-Waregem (on loan from Malaga)

    Caps: 5

    Goals: 1

    Barcelona's Jean Marie Dongou could be included here after scoring for the Catalan giants in the Copa del Rey this season, but Olinga is a little further on in his international career.

    He played eight times for Malaga this season before leaving for Belgium to join Zulte-Waregem on loan, and he scored on both his debuts for Malaga and for Cameroon.

    Having come through Samuel Eto'o's foundation in Cameroon, Olinga could well find himself partnering the African icon upfront in Brazil.

Spain: Isco

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    Ian Walton/Getty Images

    Age: 21

    Club: Real Madrid

    Caps: 2

    Goals: 0

    Spain's squad is so settled after a sustained period of success that it can be tough for young players to break into it but after impressing in patches during his debut campaign at Real Madrid, midfielder Isco has a great chance to figure in the summer.

    A hugely impressive member of the Spanish Under-21 team, which won the European Under-21 Championship in Israel, the playmaker has had to be patient in Madrid at times, but undoubtedly possesses huge quality.

    He made his senior international debut in a friendly against Uruguay in Doha last year, and he played the final few minutes of the World Cup qualifier against Georgia in October.

Netherlands: Memphis Depay

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    Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

    Age: 19

    Club: PSV Eindhoven

    Caps: 3

    Goals: 0

    Having come through several Dutch youth age groups, Depay made his senior Dutch international debut in October when he came on a substitute in a World Cup qualifier against Turkey.

    It was a deserved promotion for the teenager following his elevation to becoming a key player at PSV over the past couple of years, scoring seven goals this season.

    With Robin van Persie injury-prone and the likes of Dirk Kuyt and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar ageing, the Dutch will be in need of an injection of youth in the summer, and Depay could provide it.

Chile: Angelo Henriquez

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    Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

    Age: 19

    Club: Real Zaragoza (on loan from Manchester United)

    Caps: 3

    Goals: 2

    Manchester United fans could be forgiven for not recognising the 19-year-old Henriquez, who has yet to play a competitive game for the club since joining in August 2012.

    He's embarked on two loan spells away from Old Trafford, the first at Wigan in the second half of last season when he scored in a defeat to Sunderland and played in an FA Cup semi-final against Millwall, with the second seeing him join Real Zaragoza this season, when he's scored five times in Spain's second tier.

    Henriquez has scored twice in three appearances for his country, including on his debut in November 2012.

Australia: Tom Rogic

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    Mark Nolan/Getty Images

    Age: 21

    Club: Melbourne Victory (on loan from Celtic)

    Caps: 8

    Goals: 0

    Attacking midfielder Rogic rose to fame with Central Coast Mariners in his homeland and after taking the A-League by storm he was linked with moves to several European clubs.

    Celtic won the race for his signature last January, with the 21-year-old making an immediate impact by setting up Kris Commons for a goal against Kilmarnock on his debut.

    A former Australian international futsal player, the midfielder played eight times for Celtic last season and seven times in this campaign before moving back to Australia to join Melbourne Victory on loan this week.

Colombia: Juan Quintero

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    Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

    Age: 21

    Club: Porto

    Caps: 3

    Goals: 0

    Tricky, nimble and with a low centre of gravity, the 21-year-old Quintero would appear to fit the bill of plenty of exciting South American youngsters.

    After impressing in his homeland he moved to Serie A club Pescara last season, and although he was unable to save them from relegation he still impressed enough to earn a move to Portuguese giants Porto last summer.

    He scored the goal of the tournament in the Under-20 World Cup in 2013, and he also scored on his Porto league debut at Vitoria Setubal as well as figuring in the Champions League this season.

Greece: Kostas Fortounis

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    Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

    Age: 21

    Club: Kaiserslautern

    Caps: 12

    Goals: 0

    A player who sounds as though he'd command a hefty fee in the transfer market, Fortounis made his name with Asteras Tripolis in his homeland.

    He joined Germany's Kaiserslautern in 2011, and he impressed enough to earn a place in his country's squad for their Euro 2012 campaign in Poland and the Ukraine.

    A midfielder who loves to get forward and can play out wide, Fortounis perhaps needs to develop more of a ruthless streak in front of goal, but he could be a key figure for the Greeks in Brazil.

Ivory Coast: Abdul Razak

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    Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

    Age: 21

    Club: Anzhi Makhachkala

    Caps: 5

    Goals: 0

    Whilst at Manchester City, the highly-rated Razak was sent on loan spells to Portsmouth, Brighton and Charlton, before he left City permanently in October following 10 appearances in all competitions.

    The combative Ivorian midfielder had been learning at the feet of Yaya Toure in Manchester but now at Anzhi Makhachkala in Russia he is seeking to spread his wings.

    He's been a fixture in the Anzhi side since joining, and he should add depth to his country's midfield options in the summer.

Japan: Yuya Osako

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    Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images

    Age: 23

    Club: 1860 Munich

    Caps: 6

    Goals: 3

    Okay, so we've bent the rules a little bit here, but Osako is very much seen as the bright young hope of Japanese football following stellar form for Kashima Antlers, which has earned him his move to Europe this year.

    The forward has joined 1860 Munich in Germany after scoring 65 times over five years for the J-League club, whilst he's also broken into the Japanese senior team following goals at youth age groups.

    He scored twice in an East Asian Cup clash against Australia last year, before also finding the net in the 2-2 draw with the Netherlands in November.

Uruguay: Jose Gimenez

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    Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

    Age: 19

    Club: Atletico Madrid

    Caps: 3

    Goals: 0

    Chiefly benefiting from the injury suffered by Sebastian Coates, centre-back Gimenez adds a dash of youth to an ageing Uruguay squad.

    Since moving to Atletico Madrid last summer, the defender has chiefly been restricted to appearances in the Copa del Rey, but he will have learned from a highly confident squad which continue to impress everyone in La Liga.

    Breaking into the team at the World Cup will be tough for the teenager, but he is certainly highly-rated and has to be regarded as one for the future.

Costa Rica: Joel Campbell

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    Matt King/Getty Images

    Age: 21

    Club: Olympiakos (on loan from Arsenal)

    Caps: 30

    Goals: 8

    Arsenal fans have still to see Campbell don a Gunners shirt despite him signing for them in the summer of 2011, with the forward going on three separate loan spells to further his development.

    Following a season with Lorient in France and then Real Betis in Spain, Campbell is currently enjoying his most potent campaign so far with six goals for Greek giants Olympiakos.

    He has scored eight goals in his three-year senior international career, including a strike against Spain and the winner in a friendly against Wales.

England: Ross Barkley

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    Clive Rose/Getty Images

    Age: 20

    Club: Everton

    Caps: 3

    Goals: 0

    Considered to be one of the shining lights of this Premier League season, Everton's Barkley has become one of the linchpins of his team under Roberto Martinez.

    After shining for England at various youth levels, he was rewarded for his good form with a first senior cap in a World Cup qualifier against Moldova in September, before two further appearances at the end of the year.

    An injury has currently hampered his progress but having been compared to his nation's captain Steven Gerrard, Barkley is a player that all England fans are looking forward to seeing in action in Brazil.

Italy: Stephan El Shaarawy

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    Claudio Villa/Getty Images

    Age: 21

    Club: AC Milan

    Caps: 10

    Goals: 1

    Injury has disrupted El Shaarawy's campaign this season, something which has contributed to AC Milan's disappointing 2013/14.

    Hopefully he'll be fit and firing by the time of the World Cup though, and he can build on his 10 caps as Italy look to navigate their way through a tricky group which also includes Uruguay and England.

    El Shaarawy adds a dash of youth to this Italian team and alongside the likes of the slightly older Lorenzo Insigne and Mario Balotelli, who is older still at 23, the forward could shine in Brazil.

Switzerland: Granit Xhaka

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    Harold Cunningham/Getty Images

    Age: 21

    Club: Borussia Monchengladbach

    Caps: 23

    Goals: 4

    Xherdan Shaqiri is 22, and so we've gone for another one of Switzerland's X-Men in Xhaka.

    The Borussia Monchengladbach midfelder has been one of the key elements behind his side's consistent campaign in the Bundesliga, whilst he's made 23 appearances for the Swiss national side since making his debut in a 2-2 draw with England at Wembley in June 2011.

    Xhaka was once compared to Bastian Schweinsteiger by Switzerland coach Ottmar Hitzfeld, per Goal.com, and he will be a key figure in his country's midfield in a group they'll fancy getting out of.

     

Ecuador: Marlon De Jesus

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    Associated Press

    Age: 22

    Club: Monterrey

    Caps: 5

    Goals: 0

    De Jesus has been on the radar of the Ecuadorian national side for a few years now, but now he is 22 he seems to have matured into a fine goalscorer at club level.

    Several moves in his teens never quite worked out, but a transfer to Ecuadorian side Emelec eventually saw him realise his potential, and he scored 24 goals in 66 games.

    He has since moved on again, this time to Mexican giants Monterrey, and he could well give his nation something different in attack in Brazil.

France: Paul Pogba

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    Michel Euler/Associated Press

    Age: 20

    Club: Juventus

    Caps: 10

    Goals: 3

    Having escaped an unhappy spell at Manchester United, Pogba has gone on to regularly display his undoubted and numerous qualities in Serie A with Juventus, where he has become one of the icons of the team.

    A strong presence in midfield, he'll be looking to impose himself on the matches in Brazil as he bids to drive France towards qualification in what looks to be a generous group.

    Pogba has the potential to be one of the standout players at the World Cup, never mind one of the top young performers.

Honduras: Andy Najar

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    Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

    Age: 20

    Club: Anderlecht

    Caps: 14

    Goals: 1

    A hard-working winger, Najar was named the MLS Rookie of the Year whilst with DC United in 2010, when he made his debut aged 17 and stayed in the team for 31 matches.

    Another couple of years in Washington followed, before Najar moved to Belgium and joined Anderlecht a year ago.

    He's played nine times for the reigning Belgian champions, scoring his first goal for the club in last weekend's 2-1 defeat at Mechelen.

     

Argentina: Erik Lamela

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    Claudio Villa/Getty Images

    Age: 21

    Club: Tottenham

    Caps: 6

    Goals: 0

    Things have been nothing short of nightmarish for Lamela since his move to England, with Tottenham sacking the manager who was in charge when he was signed and the winger hardly featuring at all.

    In Argentina though, they still remember the player who scored three goals in four matches in the 2011 Under-20 World Cup, and the man who found the net 15 times for Roma in Serie A last season.

    Standing a good chance to be the youngest player in the Argentina squad, Lamela will of course have plenty of attacking talent ahead of him in the queue but a loan move away from Spurs might benefit his chances.

Bosnia-Herzegovina: Izet Hajrovic

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Age: 22

    Club: Galatasaray

    Caps: 4

    Goals: 1

    Hajrovic's senior international career began with seven minutes in a Switzerland shirt in a friendly match against Tunisia in November 2012, before switching his nationality to become a Bosnian last August.

    He was immediately included in the squad which clinched qualification for their first ever World Cup finals at the tail end of last year, with Hajrovic scoring a stunning strike in a qualifier against Slovakia.

    The winger's fine performances for Grasshoppers Zurich attracted the attention of Roberto Mancini and Galatasaray, and the 22-year-old completed a move to Turkey earlier this month.

Iran: Alireza Jahanbakhsh

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    Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

    Age: 20

    Club: NEC Nijmegen

    Caps: 3

    Goals: 1

    Right-winger Jahanbakhsh (on the right of the picture above), has prospered since moving to Europe in the summer, scoring four goals in 16 games for NEC Nijmegen in the Eredivisie.

    As one of the few players in the Iran team to have made it to Europe he perhaps has more big game experience than plenty of his teammates, and he shone in both the Under-20 and Under-23 teams.

    Coach Carlos Queiroz has seen something to admire in the winger, and he scored his first senior international goal in a 3-0 win over Thailand in November.

     

     

Nigeria: Ogenyi Onazi

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    Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

    Age: 21

    Club: Lazio

    Caps: 18

    Goals: 1

    A regular in the Lazio midfield and a winner of both the Coppa Italia and the African Cup of Nations in 2013, Onazi is an all-action central midfielder who will look to dominate the centre of the park in Brazil.

    Not a regular goalscorer by any means, Onazi did however score in just his second international match against Venezuela, before that African Cup of Nations triumph in which he played in every minute of Nigeria's matches.

    His energy and enthusiam will be crucial for Nigeria in a group which could see them finish second to Argentina.

Germany: Mario Goetze

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    Claudio Villa/Getty Images

    Age: 21

    Club: Bayern Munich

    Caps: 26

    Goals: 6

    Having switched Borussia Dortmund for Bayern Munich in 2013, there now appears to be very little that can stop the progression of the talented Goetze.

    Eight goals in his 20 appearance for Pep Guardiola's side have ensured that he hasn't needed any time to hit the ground running, and the 21-year-old should be a key figure in the summer as he displays his talents on the global stage for the first time.

    Capable of filling and excelling in a number of roles, Goetze will be one to watch in the summer as the Germans go for glory.

Portugal: Nelson Oliveira

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    Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

    Age: 22

    Club: Rennes (on loan from Benfica)

    Caps: 14

    Goals: 1

    Oliveira appeared from the bench in four of Portugal's matches at Euro 2012, including the semi-final defeat to Spain.

    It is safe to say that the forward didn't overly impress in Poland and the Ukraine, but Portugal coach Paulo Bento has stuck with him and will have been encouraged by his performances on loan in France with Rennes this season, where he has scored seven goals but admittedly none since early November.

    Obviously this Portuguese team is dominated by the influence of Cristiano Ronaldo but younger talents such as Oliveira can have an impact too in what is a tough group.

     

Ghana: Christian Atsu

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    Adam Pretty/Getty Images

    Age: 22

    Club: Vitesse Arnhem (on loan from Chelsea)

    Caps: 20

    Goals: 4

    Winger Atsu was linked to several clubs in the summer before completing his move to Chelsea, from where he was immediately loaned out to the Blues' sister club Vitesse Arnhem in the Netherlands.

    This might be considered a strange move given that he was already performing pretty well in Europe at Porto, but Atsu has shown no dip in form during his time at the lower-profile club, scoring twice this season and performing well as his club sit joint-top of the league.

    Having made his Ghana debut in 2012, he has gone on to be considered a key part of the team, and he will be crucial to his side's hopes in Brazil.

United States: Juan Agudelo

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    Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    Age: 21

    Club: FC Utrecht (on loan from Stoke City)

    Caps: 17

    Goals: 2

    A protracted transfer to Stoke was finally completed this month, but Agudelo has immediately gone to the Dutch side FC Utrecht as the club were unable to secure a work permit for the player.

    The former New York Red Bulls, Chivas USA and New England Revolution forward was in the US squad which were runners-up in the CONCACAF Gold Cup in 2011, but he has now matured somewhat from the raw forward who came into the team in late 2010 and immediately became his country's youngest ever goalscorer.

    Fears that Agudelo would "do a Freddy Adu" and fade out into obscurity haven't been realised, and he should be a key player for the USA in their tough group.

Belgium: Romelu Lukaku

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    Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

    Age: 20

    Club: Everton (on loan from Chelsea)

    Caps: 26

    Goals: 5

    The fact that Lukaku won't turn 21 until mid-May is a quite an alarming and astonishing one, as he has already packed so much into his career already.

    In scoring goals for Anderlecht, West Brom and now Everton, although not his parent club Chelsea, the forward has established himself as one of the best young forwards in the world game and as a key reference point for his teammates.

    His international strike record perhaps isn't as good as those who have watched him in the Premier League would expect it to be, but in a kind Group H he can lead the line for Belgium and lead it well.

Algeria: Ishak Belfodil

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    Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

    Age: 22

    Club: Inter Milan

    Caps: 2

    Goals: 0

    It's hardly been plain sailing for Belfodil during his first season with Inter Milan, where he has yet to score for the Italian giants and was sent off in a match against Verona in October.

    Algeria will see the young forward as a key man in the summer though, especially after they fought off the attentions of France to get him to switch allegiances and play for them last year.

    Belfodil could potentially make a loan move from Inter in the January window in order to gain more first-team football, something that Algeria would no doubt welcome ahead of the summer.

Russia: Aleksandr Kokorin

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    Francois Nel/Getty Images

    Age: 22

    Club: Dynamo Moscow

    Caps: 18

    Goals: 4

    All of Kokorin's four senior international strikes came in Russia's 2014 World Cup qualification campaign and that attracted the interest of a then super-rich Anzhi Makhachkala.

    They took him from Dynamo after triggering a multi-million pound release clause, only to immediately have to transfer the player back to Moscow due to their financial structure changes.

    Kokorin has scored six goals in 12 appearances for Dynamo this season, and he will be a key figure for coach Fabio Capello in Brazil.

South Korea: Son Heung-Min

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    Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

    Age: 21

    Club: Bayer Leverkusen

    Caps: 22

    Goals: 5

    Goals at Hamburg led to Son being seen as a hot property in German football, and he joined Bayer Leverkusen for a club record 10 million euros last summer.

    Once there he's been impressive, scoring nine goals in 23 games before the winter break to keep Leverkusen up near the top end of the table, establishing himself as one of the key performers in the Bundesliga along the way.

    South Korea will feel as though they can escape from Group H and with Son on form they can do just that.